Sunday, March 18, 2007

Four Years Later, the Spin Continues

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A new set of poll results published in The Times of London, and conducted by the UK-based Opinion Research Business, is getting a lot of blogger attention today. The Times (a Rupert Murdoch publication, as Richard at All Spin Zone points out) has two separate articles declaring that the survey results show that most Iraqis do not think Iraq is in a state of civil war and feel that life is better now than it was under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Richard has taken a close look at the detailed poll results, and finds that the reality is not as rosy as the spin. Take that question about whether Iraq is in a state of civil war, for example. Marie Colvin writes, "Only 27% think there is a civil war in Iraq, compared with 61% who do not, according to the survey carried out last month." But Colvin fails to mention that 22% of Iraqis think that Iraq is "close to" civil war; and does not take account of significant differences between Sunni and Shia respondents. Richard's counterspin [note, in particular, Richard's bolded phrase, "in, or close to"]:

Iraqis are evenly split on the question of whether or not the country is engaged in or close to a civil war. 63% of Sunnis say they are in, or close to, a state of civil war. 49% of the total population and 36% of Shia think the same. (Page 10)

and analysis:

This is a little bit surprising. Througout the survey, it’s crystal clear that there’s a tremendous divide in opinion between the largest sectarian divisions in Iraq, the Sunni, Shia, and Kurds. So, it seems significant that fully half of the country - and nearly 2/3 of the Sunni population, - believes that they are involved in or close to a civil war.

The above having been noted, James Joyner's point about civil war in Iraq is well-taken:

As to the “civil war” debate, it’s largely academic. The situation on the ground is what it is, regardless of how one labels it. My training tells me that a disparate collection of anti-government forces conducting guerrilla and terrorist attacks does not meet the definition of “civil war.” That doesn’t make the daily slaughter less significant.

Getting back to the Times piece titled "Iraqis: Life Is Getting Better," Colvin opens with the announcement:

MOST Iraqis believe life is better for them now than it was under Saddam Hussein, according to a British opinion poll published today.

The survey of more than 5,000 Iraqis found the majority optimistic despite their suffering in sectarian violence since the American-led invasion four years ago this week.

Not quite:

With respect to things being better or worse since Saddam, again, opinions are almost evenly split. As an aggregate, 49% of Iraqis feel things are better. 29% of Sunni say better, 62% say worse or the same. 66% of Shia say better, 26% say worse or the same. (Page 32)

So, where does the murdochian spin of “MOST Iraqis believe life is better for them now than it was under Saddam Hussein” come from?? An ex-Fox producer’s mind who is now working for the UK Times? 49% isn’t even a majority. Ask Al Gore. ...

Cernig at Newshog addresses the response to the survey among right-wing bloggers. He quotes Tigerhawk:

Iraqis seem to believe both that the "surge" is working and that security will improve still further after a withdrawal of the foreign armies...Iraqis...essentially believe the possibilities for the Petraeus plan -- we provide temporary security with the objective of creating the space necessary for the government and army of Iraq to stand without assistance, after which we substantially withdraw.

The survey also makes much of the idea that Iraqis, who have suffered enormously in the last four years, nevertheless prefer current conditions to life under reminds us how truly horrible life under Saddam must have been. It is quite extraordinary that one quarter of all Iraqis have had a family member murdered since the toppling of the Ba'athists and still they do not hanker for the way it was.

and deconstructs Tigerhawk [emphasis in original]:

... If 26% say it was better under Saddam and another 16% say it is just as bad as under Saddam then that adds up to 42%. The rest said either that they didn't know or refused to answer. The survey has a margin of error of 1.4%

Clearly a Times headline that claims life is getting better is reaching a bit on those figures, as is Tigerhawk's statement. One could just as easily (and rather more accurately) say that, according to the survey, half of Iraqis didn't think life was better than under Saddam. Certainly a clear majority of Sunnis don't think so. Perhaps what is most amazing here is that a full 36% of Shiites, more than a third, refused to say that life was better under Maliki than under Saddam despite their being oppressed and abused by the Saddam regime for so long.

It's disheartening, if not surprising, that four years to the day after the U.S. made what Scott Ritter said would be an "historic mistake," we are still hearing and reading such misleading and dishonest analyses of a war that has turned out to be exactly what Ritter predicted it would be. It's appalling that anyone can still make excuses for what the U.S. did in Iraq, even if many early war supporters were motivated by a genuine desire to liberate Iraqis from a terrible tyranny. By now, everyone should be able to see that Iraqis have been "liberated" from a fire into an inferno, and that the world's citizens -- including (indeed, especially) Americans -- are immeasurably more endangered now than they were before.


Richard Blair said...

Excellent synopsis, Kathy! My take was quick and dirty. You've fleshed out the survey results nicely.

Kathy said...

Thank you, Richard. I needed that kind of encouragement more than you know, on this particular day.

Thank you.